5 Reasons to Visit Makalali Private Nature Reserve

by Harriet Nimmo

Known as the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, Makalali is located in the lowveld region of Limpopo, about an hour west of the Kruger National Park. It offers a great experience for first-time safari goers and, with some romantic lodge features, it is also a special destination for honeymooners. There are many reasons to visit the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve but just the top five are listed here.

  1. Remote and wild

The Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve is one of the country’s major privately-owned conservation areas. Its mission is to expand South Africa’s green frontier and the reserve is involved in trying to re-establish the ancient wildlife migration routes that link Kruger National Park in the east to the Drakensburg Mountains in the west.

Makalali Private Nature Reserve, Big 5 Safari, Garonga Safari Camp, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, South Africa safari, Luxury Safari Camp, Safari accommodation
Encountering rhinos

At over 22 000ha/54 400ac and with a very low density of lodges, it feels very wild with few, if any, other vehicles at sightings. The lodges have unlimited traversing rights across the whole reserve – very few lodges in other reserves have access to such an unfettered space.

  1. Breathtaking scenery

Makalali’s scenery is stunning, with a varied terrain including undulating rocky hills (known as kopjes or koppies in South Africa) and open areas.

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Enjoying sundowners

There are beautiful viewpoints, with panoramic vistas across the reserve – the perfect setting for a sundowner (evening drink).

  1. Wildlife watching

Makalali is home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) and has a great reputation for close-up sightings. As well as white rhino, it is also home to the rarer and far more elusive black rhino. You also stand a chance of seeing cheetah here too.

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Glimpsing a cheetah

Because it is a private reserve, your guide can drive off-road to follow the animals into their world, away from the road, for optimum viewing, which can make for fantastic photographic opportunities.  You can also go for private guided nature walks in Makalali.

  1. One-of-a-kind experiences

Although the Big Five wildlife encounters and going on game drives are thrilling, it is only part of the safari experience. Equally important is the whole lodge experience – taking time out to relax, unwind, switch off and nurture your soul.

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The star bath

There are some very special experiences on offer in Makalali at Garonga Safari Camp. This small, exclusive lodge provides luxury accommodation in en-suite tents. Sleeping in a tent is a far more intimate experience than being sealed inside a brick chalet, as you can hear the noises of the African night.

In addition, Garonga Safari Camp offers the Star Bath, which is a whole new alfresco bathing experience. Your private free-standing bath is under the glittering African night sky; enjoy a glass of wine and the sounds of the African bush.

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The yoga deck

To continue the theme of a ‘safari for the soul’, Garonga Safari Camp also offers a tranquil Yoga Deck – an enclosed tented structure, which allows the breeze to pass through while you stretch and contemplate the view of the African bush, and (if you’re lucky) passing wildlife. You can also relax and enjoy a massage by the camp’s resident therapist in the Sala Room in a beautiful bush setting.

  1. Sleeping under the stars

Finally, there is the opportunity to spend the night on Garonga Safari Camp’s Sleep-out Deck.

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The sleep-out deck

Spend a night under the African stars, on your very own luxurious sleep-out deck with a four-poster bed and private dinner, overlooking a waterhole.

If you’re headed to South Africa, then a safari experience at Makalali Private Nature Reserve is highly recommended.

Harriet Nimmo is a member of the SafariBookings Expert Panel and founder of the Wild Shots Wildlife Photography Conference in South Africa. You can read her South Africa country review on SafariBookings here.

Safari Camp Stories: A Zebra Walked into a Bar…

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

Certain guest questions, like certain guide jokes, can be considered to be a staple of a visit to the bush. For a guide, watching a zebra go from one side of a road to the other we are overwhelmed by the urge to call out “zebra crossing!” and only very rarely do we successfully repress this urge. In our heads each repetition of the joke is met with raucous laughter accompanied by general agreement that your guide is a sterling human and probably has a decent back-up career as a stand up comic. In reality, the joke is often met with a raised eyebrow, possibly even a roll of the eyes, and if the guide is really lucky a polite titter. Nevertheless, I can assure you it is a joke that never gets old. Similarly, when presented with our equine pals guests’ lips start to twitch, they glance sideways at one another and finally ask the immortal question: “So, are they black with white stripes or white with black stripes?”, quick as a flash our lowveld guides will fire back, “ah but what about the grey stripes?” which are a distinguishing feature of the Plains zebra found in the area. In general this tends to stump guests and we all move on from our guilty game drive giggles to enjoy the animals themselves. Despite this battle of the comic wits zebras are a firm favourite with guests and guides alike and never fail to delight on a drive as we rediscovered on a morning not too long ago…

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© Sophie Barrett

Here in the bush Autumn has started or, as the Starks would say, ‘Winter is coming…’ Our mornings are misty and there is a definite chill to the air. In practical terms what this means is that we reach a point on the morning drive when Bongi and I spin round in excitement only to discover that the mysterious noise we are investigating is the gurgle of a guest stomach – it is time to stop for coffee. One recent morning, anticipating that the stomach rumble would soon be upon us, we stopped for coffee in an open clearing and, after a quick check that there was nothing lying in wait behind the bushes, we invited the team to come down and stretch their legs. However, we were not the only occupants of the clearing, although we definitely needed some caffeine to get our energy levels up to the standards of those who were sharing it with us! Across the open plain was a scene that proved, beyond a doubt that we were in Africa. We had been joined by a tower of giraffe and a dazzle of zebra – and boy were they active! A couple of giraffe bulls were sizing each other up, whilst being pointedly ignored by the females who were with them, spoiling for a battle over mating rights. Their limelight, however, was stolen soundly by the zebra stallions.

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© Sophie Barrett

Zebras have a foul temper that they demonstrate with a solid kick and a nasty bite and these stallions were in need of a referee. When zebras fight over mares they have been known to inflict serious wounds on their challengers – and I mean serious, zebras running around sporting half a tail have most likely fallen foul of another zebra stallion rather than pulled off a close escape from a lion! The fights are fast and messy, each stallion lunges to take a bite out of his opponent. There is no gentleman’s agreement here. As we watched the males jumped, snapped and spun; suddenly crashing forwards onto their knees to prevent their opponent biting through their genitals! On foot in the clearing we were connected with the sighting in a way that is hard to achieve in the vehicle. Our hearts were in our mouths and our adrenaline levels spiked as we watched, transfixed, as the battle played out. After an incredible number of near misses one male emerged victorious and chased the vanquished opponent, thankfully with both genitals and tail in tact, from the clearing! Shaking our heads and grateful that our day would be considerably more peaceful we slipped back onto the game viewer and headed for home without a single mention of stripe colours or zebra crossings.

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© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett

Guides’ Wildlife Photo Competition Winners

Along with the photo competition that guests from both Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga can submit their safari moments to, we have also started an annual Wildlife Photo Competition for our guide and tracker teams. The teams: Jaffet and Richard; Josia and Phineas; Samantha and Stewart; Derrick and Kaizer; and Sophie and Bongi, get to explore the bush daily on a game drive or on foot, regularly experiencing fantastic sightings, which make for great photographic opportunities.

While a little healthy competition never harmed anyone, this is just a fun platform for our guides to showcase their wildlife photography skills in the field. Wildlife photographer, Paul Changuion, judged the submissions sent in by our guides last year. Without further ado, here are the winners of last year’s Wildlife Photo Competition.

1st Place – Born to Ride

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© Sophie Barrett

During an afternoon game drive in late October, Bongi called out “What’s that?”, which was met by a chuckle from Sophie. She pulled out her binoculars and starting scanning the area where he was looking because she knew that if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without binoculars, then she certainly wasn’t going to be able to. On the tracker seat ahead, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’. At that point, Sophie was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to her face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. And then she finally saw it, or more accurately them. Their very first pangolin sighting was also their second pangolin sighting as there was a female carrying her youngster on her back. Many guides never get the chance to see a pangolin – let alone two- during their entire career so they most certainly count themselves lucky! To read the full story, visit the first blog of our Safari Camp Stories series titled A Double Pangolin Sighting.

2nd Place – Cat Got Your Tongue

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© Sophie Barrett

It was an afternoon in mid-November that was ripe with possibilities, Sophie had a vehicle filled with new guests and Kaizer and Sophie were keen to finish tracking down the Garonga pride. Kaizer was taking the sleep-out guests and headed straight to where they had left the tracks in the morning. Sophie got waylaid by a gang of boisterous elephant bulls and saw King Raf (the oldest elephant bull in the reserve) get outsmarted by a sassy young bull. Whilst they were with the elephants, Kaizer called over the radio to say that he had found the lion pride and that the cubs were with them. At this point the pride had four cubs, two who were about 6 and half months old and two who were coming up to 2 months old. When Sophie pulled into the sighting she blinked, rubbed her eyes and gasped – there were not four but SIX cubs!

The oldest female in the pride had given birth since anyone had last seen her and the tiny bundles she was suckling looked to be about two days old! It was late evening and they sat in silent awe watching as this experienced female nursed and then washed her cubs. Once she was finished she glanced up at them, stood, stretched and, with incredible gentleness, picked up one of the cubs in her mouth. She levelled an assessing stare at Sophie and started walking towards her, and for one bonkers moment, she thought the lioness was bringing her cub to Sophie for a lion king style introduction to the reserve, at the last moment the lioness changed direction and stalked silently into the setting sun.

3rd Place – Nightjar Ninja

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© Derrick Nyathi

The Garonga pride had some recent additions to the pride, which were now old enough for the pride to move the den site. That afternoon Derrick and Kaizer were determined to find where the pride had moved to. They set out and were successful in finding them but the lions weren’t all that they found… As Derrick was positioning the vehicle to glimpse the lion cubs nestled inside the den he spotted two eggs on the ground. Curious, he pulled closer to work out what bird they belonged to and as he examined the area Derrick realised the answer was right in front of him, blending perfectly with the leaf litter and not so much as batting an eyelid at the gigantic tyre that was passing next to her nest was a fiery necked nightjar. It was impossible not to record such flawless camouflage.

4th Place – Midnight Snack Attack

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© Sophie Barrett

Leopards are the most elusive cat, feeling more at home when the shadows have lengthened. During the daylight hours they are shy and skittish, they often take comfort in the darkness becoming bolder and tolerating an observer’s presence. Sophie and Bongi had found this particular leopard on the morning drive when they were tracking a coalition of male cheetahs that had moved into the Garonga section of the reserve. As soon as they spotted the leopard, it raced down the trunk of the marula tree and disappeared leaving a warthog carcass stashed in the tree’s canopy.

Sophie and Bongi locked eyes and gave each other an excited nod – they knew precisely where they would be driving once the sun had set. After darkness fell they made their way back to the marula tree and found, to their delight, that the young leopard had returned and was happily feeding on the warthog remains. With only the light of the stars (and a safari spotlight) to see them by, the leopard’s attitude had completely changed. Sophie, Bongi and their guests were presented with a poser of epic proportions and sat transfixed, snapping away, as the leopard locked them in place with its intense stare.

Safari Camp Stories: Following a Cheetah Hunt

by Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula, guide and tracker at Garonga

It was one of those mornings where the bush was alive and bristling with activity. We could barely move without seeing animals.

After a few days of careful tracking, we had found a young female cheetah. We enjoyed a lovely relaxed sighting where she was lying down, looking to all the world like she was fast asleep when, suddenly, her head popped up. With her incredible sense of hearing she had heard something moving through the bush.

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© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Gone was her lazy demeanour as she was up and stalking through the bush in one single movement. To us it was a mystery what she had heard; a cheetah’s hearing is far more acute than a human’s and we could neither see nor hear what she was following. Whatever it was though was clearly something delicious!

Whilst we were following her, she put on a burst of speed and disappeared! And so the search for her began again. We picked up her tracks and then in the background we heard the impalas’ alarm calling so we had our direction and raced off! Unfortunately, as a young cheetah, she was still learning to perfect her hunting technique. She had detected a bachelor herd of impalas, stalked them excellently but had gotten ahead of herself and become exposed.

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© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Like their big cat predators, impalas also have fantastic senses. As an animal that is on everyone’s menu, they have to be constantly on alert and luckily for the males that morning, they had spotted the hungry female cheetah as she approached them. After spotting her they sounded their alarm call, which let both the cheetah and us know that the impalas had seen her and the jig was up!

At this point, the cheetah had no choice but to move off as the noise was likely to draw the attention of other predators. That could be very dangerous for the cheetah because any of those predators entering the scene would see her as competition for food and attack her.

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© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Looking sad that she hadn’t managed to catch herself a tasty breakfast, she skulked off into the bushes to try her luck somewhere else.

Safari Camp Stories: A Double Pangolin Sighting

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

In the first of our safari camp stories from Garonga, I’m going to tell you about the rarest of the rare, the world’s most trafficked animal and the veritable golden snitch of the safari-quidditch world (more Harry Potter lingo to follow). That’s right, we’re talking about the pangolin.

Now as big denouements go, I appreciate that this might have just fallen a little flat, almost like Harry Potter’s friend Neville Longbottom when his remembral turns red but still leaves him firmly in the dark as to what it is he has forgotten. Similarly, the pangolin, despite its heady status as the world’s most trafficked animal, remains a fairly unknown creature to most of us.

What is a pangolin? There are eight species of pangolin in the world, with four being found on the African continent, and they occupy their own taxonomic order, Pholidata. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are descended from carnivores and feed exclusively on a diet of ants and termites. They have no teeth, incredibly long sticky tongues, and ears that seal up to prevent those creepy crawlies getting inside!

The name pangolin derives from the animal’s Malaysian name ‘peng-goling’ which means ‘the roller’. Pangolins are covered in tough keratin scales which act very much like armour. If they encounter any danger their first reaction is to roll into a ball with their scales creating impenetrable exterior sphere which they maintain until the danger has passed.

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© Sophie Barrett

Are there pangolins at Garonga? There is only species of pangolin in South Africa, the Temminck’s ground pangolin or Smutsia temmickii if you want to get technical about it. Garonga has a pretty good record as far as pangolins go. We are fortunate to confirm that there are a minimum of three resident pangolins on the property. So you can imagine my excitement when I started working at Garonga in June 2018 and went twice daily on games drives, being wholly convinced that I was on my way to see my first ever pangolin.

At the start of each drive my tracker and I would confidently announce that we were on our way to find ourselves a pangolin; although I have a sneaking suspicion some of the tracking team might have been humouring me! Yet slowly the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and, sadly, we had yet to see this elusive animal. This is not necessarily surprising as pangolins are the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the guide’s rainbow. They are infamously tricky to find; there are guides who have spent 20 years working in the bush having never seen this shy and retiring creature.

So when Bongi and I were chasing around after a leopard at the beginning of last October and came across fresh pangolin tracks the excitement was palpable. Well, at least it was for Bongi and I, as the guests’ expressions seemed to suggest they were hoping that after a 10-minute hike through the bush for something a little more showy than a fairly nondescript squashed circle in the red African dust.

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© Sophie Barrett

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Bongi is a member of our tracking team known affectionately as ‘The Man with the Magical Eyes’. So, on another afternoon drive in late October, when Bongi called out “What’s that?”, I chuckled and pulled out my binoculars; if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without them, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to. I asked Bongi where we were looking and started a casual scan of the area. On the tracker seat ahead of me, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’. At that point, I was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to my face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. Then my scan took me to my right where I saw it, or more accurately them. That’s right folks, our first pangolin sighting was also our second pangolin sighting. Right before our eyes was a female carrying her youngster on her back.

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© Sophie Barrett

Chaos followed! The guests on my vehicle were French and had never heard of pangolins and in the excitement they got a mixed babble of French and English explanations about how incredible and rare it is to see a pangolin. Bongi and I were close to tears. We followed the female with her youngster in the vehicle for a short way and then got out on foot for a closer look. The adult pangolin headed towards a thick clump of grass, tipped her baby off her back and gave us the enormous privilege of sitting with her and her offspring, taking in their presence and sharing in their story. I then got to make, hands down, the coolest radio call in my career “Stations, Sophie is on lock with a mother and baby pangolin – visual 5 out 5”. The radio nearly exploded and there wasn’t a mobile vehicle on the reserve that night that didn’t come to Garonga to see these mythical beasts.

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© Sophie Barrett

Following an inspection of the scales on the female, we noticed a damaged scale and realised, with mounting excitement, that this was the self-same individual that Sam, another guide at Garonga, had seen the previous year who had been in the perilous situation of being curled tightly in a ball clasped between the claws of one of the younger, more curious, Garonga pride male lions! These animals really are amazingly tough as not only had she emerged relatively unscathed from the encounter she found herself a mate and successfully given birth to a healthy baby. The morning after our encounter there was a suspicious number of vehicles circling that part of the reserve but of mother and baby there was no sign – they had vanished.

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© Samantha Hewitt

Seeing a mother pangolin with a baby in the wild was such an amazing privilege especially bearing in mind how much pressure is being exerted on this species. It is estimated that more than 1 million pangolins have been taken from the wild in the last decade alone. It took until the week before Christmas until we found their tracks again.

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© Sophie Barrett

Why are they so endangered? Regrettably, pangolins are highly desired for medicinal use both in Africa and internationally. Across Africa, traditional healers use pangolin parts in their treatments, tending to focus on using scales and bones, whilst the meat is used for preparing charms for chiefs or tribal leaders. With 80% of Africa’s population relying on traditional medicine either due to not having access to modern medicine or not trusting it, there is a significant impact on the pangolin population.

Pangolins are a firm favourite in Asian traditional medicine, to such an extent that the two species of pangolin native to China and Vietnam are now  listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In Vietnam, pangolins are considered a great delicacy and are smuggled alive into restaurants and then killed at the table to prove their freshness before being cooked and eaten.

Unfortunately, despite the impact on their native pangolin populations, the demand both for the traditional Chinese remedies, and for the pangolin as a delicacy continues. Much of this demand is being met by poaching and smuggling of African pangolin species. Professor Ray Jansen, an ecologist at Tswane University, says that ground pangolins are currently being poached at 10 times the rate of rhinos. Pangolins are very tricky to raise and keep in captivity as they require constant care and, according to some sources, hours of walks daily are necessary just to trigger their digestive juices. This means that to meet the demands described above, the only source of pangolins is from the wild.

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© Samantha Hewitt

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails and, of course, the heavily poached rhino horn. Science has been thoroughly unable to demonstrate any medicinal value in keratin, and certainly not for the myriad treatments for which pangolin parts are prescribed. Studies have, in fact, shown that over-consumption of pangolin scales can lead to liver problems. It is unclear whether the same is true for over-consumption of human fingernails – I suspect it’s been difficult to find willing participants for the latter study!

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

What can we do to help? First, we must spread the word. People can’t save an animal they’ve never heard of so education is key to the future of the pangolin. The sooner we can win communities over to modern medicine alternatives the sooner we will have a chance at stopping pangolin poaching. Secondly, there are organisations that are already doing great work to help pangolins and, as is often the case with conservation, funding can be scarce and they must turn to the public for support.

Rhino Revolution is a great local charity that opened a pangolin rehabilitation centre in August last year, which was in addition to the existing rhino rescue rehabilitation centre. Since opening the charity, they have received  a stunning nine pangolins that were confiscated from poachers, three of whom have already been successfully released into the wild. Three of the pangolins were very sick when they reached the team and continue to need round-the-clock care. The work done by Rhino Revolution is vital if we are to see the survival of these incredible animals.

If you wish to support their work, then please click here to donate from South Africa or anywhere globally – aside from the UK or the Middle East – and here to donate from the UK or the Middle East.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

They say old habits die hard and I still find myself leaving the lodge on game drives convinced that this is the drive where we spy a pangolin again. I’m crossing fingers that I’ll have another tale to add to our safari camp stories series.

Meet the Team: Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve

The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR), together with the Pidwa Wilderness Reserve forms the Greater Makalali Nature Reserve (GMNR), is a 22,000-ha game reserve situated outside Gravelotte in the Limpopo Province. The reserve has seven owners who have retained ownership of their individual properties but have removed fences to create a conservancy allowing game to traverse the entire extent of the reserve.

The reserve is home to the Big 5, with previously eradicated species including lion, elephant, rhino, hippo, buffalo, cheetah and hyena being reintroduced. Leopard, brown hyena and the smaller mammal species as well as the endangered ground hornbill and the many threatened and endangered vulture and raptor species are present on the reserve.

Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve Team

To run such a large reserve, we need a very special and motivated team. From mending fences to ensuring legal and environmental compliance and liaising with the Anti-Poaching Teams, the team has their work cut out for them – nothing is too small!

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Josias Mohuba (Senior Fence Patroller), Richard Sachse (Rhino Monitor), Matthew Mohuba (Fence Patroller), James Maila (Maintenance), Lydia Raganya (B2W Environmental Monitor), Peter Malatji (Maintenance), Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitor), Clement Mahlo (Environmental Monitor), Samuel Komane (Environmental Monitor), Lorraine Ngomane (Housekeeper), Carol Cerney (Assistant Rhino Monitor), Emmanuel Mahlo (Gate Guard), Yvette Panos (Financial Administrator and B2W Coordinator) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)
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Jabulane Khoza (Main Gate Security Guard)
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Emmanuel Mahlo (Garonga Gate Security Guard)

Protected Area Based Environmental Monitors

The EM programme was started by the South Africa’s National Department of Environmental Affairs in response to the challenges of high levels of unemployment adjacent to conservation areas, coupled with increases in the illegal wildlife trade. The programme aims to grow conservation capacity within South African National Parks’ (SANParks) protected areas including provincial and private reserves.

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Richard Sachse and Carol Cerney (Rhino Monitors) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)

Four Environmental Monitors are deployed on the GMPGR through an integrated plan to assist with conservation support, including various projects and activities to maintain sustainability within the GMPGR.

Back to the Wild Programme

The Back to the Wild (B2W) Programme seeks the promotion and conservation of wildlife, fauna and flora, and the natural environment, including the ecosystem in and on the reserve land, as well as establishing a formal release facility for compromised and rehabilitated indigenous wildlife on the reserve land.

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Back to Wild re-wilding enclosure

Over the years, the GMPGR has facilitated the release of several species from various centres on a small-scale. The capacity for release within GMNR has been greatly increased through the construction of six suitable re-wilding enclosures within a release facility, with the funding assistance of the Humane Society International. A slow-release process is carefully managed to ensure previously compromised and rehabilitated animals are successfully released back to the wild.

The B2W Programme is managed by Yvette Panos, who works together with Audrey Delsink Kettles, who is the Executive Director of Humane Society International: Africa, and Nicci Wright, the Executive Director of African Pangolin Working Group and an internationally qualified wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

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Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitors)

Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo are the Environmental Monitors stationed at the B2W facility, providing the necessary dedication and care of the wildlife to ensure the success of this programme.

Anti-Poaching Unit: K9 Conservation

The K9 Conservation Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) has provided logistical backup and support to the GMNR since 2014, through the deployment of elite, highly trained and specialized working-dog units. The APU is based on the reserve permanently, patrolling both in vehicles and on foot. The field rangers and dogs are carefully selected and paired to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

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K9 APU Senior Staff: Prince (Senior Field Ranger), Peter Wearne (Unit Manager), Justice (Assistant Sergeant) and Nhlanhla (Sergeant)

The Belgian Malinois, originally bred for herding purposes, have the perfect temperament, intelligence, dedication, agility and diligence to be anti-poaching K9 soldiers on the frontlines of anti-poaching efforts.

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Peter Wearne (Unit Manager of the Makalali Unit)

K9 Conservation’s primary function is to aid and assist the GMNR to counteract illegal hunting and wildlife trade by poachers and poaching syndicates. The exceptionally dedicated APU on the GMNR is led by Peter Wearne, who has been based at the GMPGR since October 2014.

For further information on GMPGR and GMNR or to support Back to the Wild, please contact us.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Little Garonga Staff

When staying at Little Garonga, you’re in the good hands of our friendly and attentive staff that is fully equipped to make this your best South African safari.

Garonga welcomed Little Garonga to the Makalali Private Game Reserve in December 2007, giving guests a little extra luxury and exclusivity in the same beautiful setting as the Safari Camp. Not only is each suite fitted with air-conditioning and Wi-Fi, the guests in these units have their own safari team with private vehicle and housekeeping staff.

Garonga, Little Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, South African safari, luxury safari accommodation, Big 5 Game Lodge, Meet the Team
The luxurious Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga © Little Garonga

The permanent staff complement at Little Garonga ensure all guests enjoy personalised and attentive service throughout their stay.

Robert: Having started off as a waiter at the Safari Camp over a decade ago, Robert moved across to Little Garonga and with his rich knowledge became the camp’s Manager in 2015. With his calm and professional demeanour, Robert always goes out of his way to afford all guests a great experience.

Margaret: Completely dedicated to maintaining clean and presentable suites, Margaret is the perfect person to oversee housekeeping at Little Garonga. She has been around since the grand opening in June 1997 and is an ingrained member of the Garonga family. You can expect to see her working briskly throughout the busy times at Garonga, always with a smile and happiness radiating from her.

Christine: With over 15 years’ experience, Christine assists Margaret with all housekeeping responsibilities and leads in all laundry tasks. She is industrious and professional, always taking real pride in her work whilst keeping a wonderful smile on her face. You can also expect a joke or two from Christine!

Herfric: Even before Garonga opened in 1997, Herfric was part of the Garonga family. From 1996, he has been working with us in different roles until his personality directed him towards waitering. Herfric is Head Waiter, overseeing all waiters at Garonga but working permanently at Little Garonga. He has a huge heart, great smile and willingness to do anything for the guests.

Patsy the Cheetah Tastes Freedom

…but not without some coaxing! 

Picture the scene: A slightly sunburned, blonde Brit crouched in the back of a pick-up truck (or a bakkie if you come from round here) holding both a DSLR with a weighty lens and a Canon PowerShot with a hefty zoom in one hand, and a rope in the other hand. You know those 20m or so plastic type ropes? Well one of those – green and white if you are wondering – that has been looped through a cut in the hind-leg of an impala carcass.

Now, I can almost hear you wondering how on earth I (or indeed anyone) had found myself in this situation. The answer, of course, is that together with the team, I was trying to tempt a female cheetah we were set to release whilst also hoping to document this exciting moment!

The outcome was not exactly what we had hoped for. Things started out well. We had got the attention of the female cheetah, Patsy to her friends, and I had managed to catch a few shots of her as she started to follow us around the enclosure. Sure, we hit a couple of bumps along the road when the impala carcass got stuck on all the citrus trees in the enclosure (and there are a lot of them). But all round we felt positive about how things were progressing. At one point, Patsy even picked up the impala in her mouth but on discovering she couldn’t simply drag it away she became an increasingly suspicious cheetah. Undeterred, we inched ever closer to the open gate and to Patsy’s freedom.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Something smells ‘fishy’ here” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

For the fastest mammal on the planet, Patsy followed us agonizingly slowly, stopping to rest in the shade of her favourite orange trees and continuously assessing our intentions. We passed her inspections, barely, and finally we (and our sad impala comrade) were through the gate! We deposited our hairy friend about 7m from the gate and snuck off into the distance to watch Patsy take the bait. Or, as it happened, to watch Patsy lie in the shade about half a metre from the gate and show no inclination whatsoever to go through it.

I can’t say I blame her. This whole drama had taken about an hour and a half and, at this stage, was punishingly hot. This was on top of the Garonga Pride paying the cheetah boma an early morning visit, during which time they circled the boma and tested her eardrums with some intense roaring. In the end we gave up with our cheetah release. Patsy lived for another week in the boma with the impala carcass to devour for her troubles, whilst we slinked away to attempt the release on another day.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Maybe this freedom thing is overrated” © Josia Sibuyi / Garonga

I suspect at this point you are all bursting with questions. Why don’t we just open the gate and let Patsy wander to freedom in her own time? And why was Patsy in the enclosure in the first place?

To answer the first question, when wild animals have been in enclosures for a while they get used to the ‘room service’. So, when released they tend to spend their first week waiting for their next meal to be brought to them. That’s why it’s important to ensure they have had a decent feed, hence the alluring impala carcass. We had an extra factor at play here at Garonga as our pride of lions had taken an unhealthy interest in our cheetah friend. We were concerned that if we opened the gate to let Patsy wonder out in her own time, we would run the risk of the lions finding her before she had mustered up the courage to venture through the gate.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
Males from the Garonga Pride © Garonga

As for why Patsy was in the enclosure in the first place, that is a sad tale and it relates to the fate of cheetahs in the wild. There are currently approximately only 6,700 cheetahs in the wild across the world and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from about 76% of their historic range on the African continent. One of the major causes of this decline is habitat loss.

Cheetahs are best adapted to have enormous territories but as the human population continues to expand, there is decreasing space available to cheetahs and, left to their own devices, they are adapting slowly to this change. At Garonga, in the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, our cheetahs have adapted to a different style of hunting. They still use their amazing speed but now in conjunction with the human-made fences, which they use to chase prey as if the fence is an extra hunting partner.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“This feels familiar” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy will be our second adult female in the reserve. Having come from a different part of South Africa, she brings the gift not only of her femininity but also a rejuvenation of the cheetah gene pool for the reserve. As our wild spaces continue to dwindle, we see four major challenges facing our cheetahs, namely habitat loss, lack of genetic diversity, human and animal conflict, and competition with other predators. By introducing Patsy into the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve we are hoping to do what we can to help in the conservation of this stunning species.

Now, coming back to Patsy’s release! Working with nature is often bizarrely like working as a comedian because it’s so often about the timing. About a week after the shenanigans described above, we dragged a second impala carcass behind a vehicle and this time Patsy was after it like a shot. This time the whole process took just five minutes!

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Farewell, see you soon!” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy is now freely roaming the reserve and we sincerely hope that she thrives here – keep an eye on Garonga’s social media feeds for updates on her progress!

Written by Sophie Barrett (Guide, Tracker, Photographer and Videographer at Garonga. 

Book with us and enjoy wild South Africa.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Marketing Teams

As with any successful lodge, we have several companies who support us in the various fields of marketing. Without marketing you cannot survive in any business.

Our Marketing Teams are made up of dedicated staff who pound the streets during the days, attend functions in the evenings, organise workshops, marketing trips, PR, reporting, and are just continuously putting a good word out. They work incredible hours striking up brilliant and loyal relationships with the trade. Garonga is forever thankful for their professionalism and dedication. Meet the teams…

United Kingdom and Ireland

Ethos Marketing have been representing Garonga since day one. That in itself speaks wonders. Alison, Amanda, Sue, Claire and Kevin have been totally professional and successful in what they do.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
Alison Whitfield, Founder and Managing Director of Ethos Marketing

A very experienced team for Africa marketing; they don’t just represent Garonga as they have a large portfolio that they represent.

Marketing Teams, Garonga, South Africa
Garonga’s owner, Bernie Smith, with James Jayasundera and Hattie Coleman of Vivid Travel

One of the things we do is arrange sales trips around the UK for Bernie with one of the Sales Team usually accompanying him to ensure continuity of the relationship building and smooth follow ups. This was Bernie on his latest trip with James Jayasundera and Hattie Coleman of Vivid Travel.

Germany and Benelux

Hella has been representing Garonga for many years. Raised in Namibia, she has a very full knowledge of Africa and is an “old Africa hand” (meant in the most respectful way of course!) She also represents a large portfolio of African products, most of which are part of the Classic Safari Africa Group. She is ably supported by Roland, who has the responsibility of dealing with PR such as organising press trips, magazine articles etc.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
Hella from Garonga and Classic Safari Africa

South Africa

 Africa In Focus is owned and run by Andrew McEwan. Andy set up AIF in 2005 after having operated as a professional safari guide at Singita for many years. This experience has given him a true knowledge of how a lodge works and can give the trade a genuine picture of how things are done.

Behind the Scenes, Marketing Teams, Garonga, South African safari, safari camp
The team at Africa in Focus

AIF have been representing Garonga for about eight years now and we have a truly awesome and friendly relationship with Andy and his team. Andy is ably supported by Rogan, his GM, Cherly, in Johannesburg and Leonie in Cape Town. AIF also represent a portfolio of stunning properties in Southern Africa.

Classic Safari Africa

Classic Safari Africa is an association of privately owned camps and properties in East and Southern Africa. Each property is unique in that the owners are very much hands on and the property itself is small and intimate. A tough inspection must be passed to become a member and a very high benchmark is necessary to qualify. All the properties, together with Classic Safari Africa, often attend marketing trade shows, local and international, together on the one stand which makes a formidable presence.

Annually we attend an AGM at one of the properties where we swop ideas and have discussions about the association and properties etc., which is priceless. We would easily recommend any one of these properties for your holiday. Classics is a well-known and highly respected brand in the African Tourism Industry. It is superbly organised and controlled by our Executive Officer, Pauline, who runs the office from Cape Town.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Safari Guide Team

Meet the safari guide team who hold the dreams of our guests in their hands, when they set out in search of the perfect safari experience.

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation of your first game drive. The wind in your hair and the scent of the bush whizzing past as you set off. This experience is what draws our guests to book at Garonga Safari Camp. Operating on 22,000HA private game reserve in the Makalali Conservancy just west of Kruger National Park, we have all the big game and heaps more. Being situated in a large wilderness area also contributes towards such an amazing game viewing area. With passion driving them, all members of our safari guide team are here to give you maximum game viewing experience.

Safari Team – Guides

Jaffeth:
As Head Guide at Garonga, Jaff started here as a tracker when we first opened 21 years ago.

Over time he has passed various qualifications and progressed through a position of guide to now our Head Guide. His key strength is his tracking skill. Currently he is trying to accomplish his Senior Tracker Level which is one step below the highest tracking level achievable.

He runs his own ‘Guest Walk Experience’ to show guests an insight into how he tracks, and also gives an in-depth knowledge on his cultural roots, ending with a fun ‘Catapult Shoot Competition’ with the guests. Something which is enjoyed by all. See more about our walking safari here

Josia:
When Jaff is on leave, Josia picks up position as 2nd in charge. He also has a “Walk Experience” to share with the guests – ‘The Solitude Walk’. Not always easy keeping people silent throughout a walk. He is a very accomplished safari guide and brings in great humour and fun to his safaris.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, Josia, Phineas
Josia and Phineas

Samantha:
Samantha is currently attempting her Trails Guide, which will then enable her to also carry out walks, or to substitute if Josia is away. She is an extremely keen and enthusiastic guide, and very willing to go the extra mile to find the game for her guests.

Derrick:
One of the ‘old school’ who has been guiding for over 20 years. Derrick is a very accomplished and experienced guide. Although only just started with Garonga Safari Camp, he has fitted in very well with the ‘Safari for the Soul’ philosophy. We aim to up-skill him even more to enable him to lead more diverse safaris.

Sophie:
Although having just joined us via the Bushwise Training Programme, Sophie has been guiding for over two years. She has traded her legal career in the UK for her passion – guiding in the African bush. She can communicate confidently in French, and can get away with passable Spanish, which is extremely handy for our European guests. Sophie is very passionate and enthusiastic about her new-found career. Sophie is also an excellent photographer and has the added responsibility of sending video and image content as well as written copy for use on our website and social platforms.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Sophie, Kaizer
Sophie and Kaizer

Safari team – Trackers

Kaizer:
Kaizer teams up with Sophie and is very knowledgeable and has that 6th sense as to where the animals are heading. A very capable tracker indeed and converses well with our guests. He has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam theory and practical, so he is also a qualified guide.

Phineas:
He teams up with Josia and always carries a great smile and sense of humour. Phineas is a very capable tracker and works extremely well with Josia, making them quite an amusing team. He also has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam.

Richard:
Richard has been here the longest amongst the trackers and he teams up well with Jaff. A very thorough and experienced tracker. You may also come across Richard behind the Manhattan Bar in the Boma, serving after dinner drinks. Richard has also just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guide Exam.

Steward:
He tracks with Samantha, and is a very likeable, well-spoken and intelligent person. Steward is fairly new to tracking but has taken to it extremely well. He received top marks out of all the trackers for the FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam and so holds great potential.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, tracker, Samantha, Steward
Samantha and Steward

Bongi:
Bongi is a very enthusiastic tracker and teams up with Derrick. Being very new to the team, our aim is to get him fully qualified up to a FGASA 1 Level Guide over the next 3 months. We foresee him being a great asset to the safari team.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Derrick, Bongi
Derrick and Bongi

This is a big team with a big heart. Their responsibility is a great one as guests arrive full of hope and expectation to see as much wildlife as possible. Time and time again the team continue to deliver using their experience, knowledge and passion. Thank you to all at Garonga Safari Camp for your hard work, energy and commitment to your roles!

Here we leave you with just one example of a rare sighting to the delight and astonishment of our American guests…